We had the great pleasure to talk with Prof. Roberto Oboe about his role as the Vice President for Technical Activities at IEEE IES, but not only. You will discover some inspiring aspects of his career and personal life – greatly influenced by Japanese culture. Please enjoy the ride with this driven, but “not-so-serious”, professor.
ITeN team: Dear professor, thanks a lot for being with us today, can you start by telling us about your profession and education background?
I graduated “several several” years ago, in 1988.
During my PhD study in Italy, my professor Giuseppe Buja asked me to go abroad for a stay, so I went to Japan in 1990. That experience changed my life. I first stayed in Japan for 6 months but since then I’ve been there more than 20 times. I was in Prof. Ohnishi’s laboratory in Keio University, Yokohama, Japan. He has served as IES president, and he introduced me to the IES volunteer world.
After PHD in 1992, I joined the University of Padova as Assistant professor, then in 2003 I moved to the University of Trento where I served as Associate Professor till my return to the University of Padova in 2008.
In what sense would you say that Japan influenced the way you work now?
In Japan, you learn how to devote yourself to your work.
Not by competition, but by collaboration – by searching the collective advantage. We don’t need to emerge by a single person, but it is better to promote the group.
Japanese people are also friendly. My first day in Japan, I visited a Church and I was looking at a map all written in Japanese – I was lost – and a Japanese man said “May I help you?”. Actually, we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier, so he just took me to the right station before going back to his own destination. I experienced the kindness of the Japanese culture.
You discovered the IES community while you were in Japan, can you tell us more about your story in IES?
When I was in Japan in 1990, it was the first Advance Motion Control conference… and in 2022, 32 years later, I am organizing the 17th edition of AMC in Padova!
My long journey in the IES Technical Committee started in 2006 in Istanbul, when I founded the Motion control TC and became its 1st chair. I was reappointed for a 2nd term, then was invited to be a member at the Adcom, then became the VP for Planning and Development for 4 years, then VP for Technical Activities for 4 years… I have been serving the society as a volunteer for more than 15 year now!
I am now a Senior member of Adcom, and elevated as IES Fellow, thanks to the efforts I produced in research and service.
And this year, I was honored to receive the Anthony J. Hornfeck Service Award For outstanding service and improvement of the society operations to IES.
As the Vice-President for Technical Activities, what would be your mission in our Industrial Electronics society?
My role is to promote of Technical Activities within the society, by supporting the 24 Technical Committee chairs and the TC people. That means to provide environment and coordination for developing their specific area of interest, and financial support when needed.
To keep a community alive, the people should be continuously involved, for example in preparation of Special Sections in our journals, or organizing Special Sessions at conferences.
The VPTA provides also help and encourages other initiatives for example in multimedia (ITeN, webinars, tutorials etc.).
Now with the technical activities clusters that grouped all our 24 TCs, my mission is to coordinate action in broader area, and think about bigger initiatives.
The role of the VPTA can be misconceived as a role of evaluator. Of course, we do some vitality check but one important part of the job is to provide support.
In January 2022, this role will go to Prof. Valeriy VYATKIN from Aalto University, Finland, but I will surely stay involved in other services for IES and IEEE, as I did since 2006!
What would be the highlights of your career?
When I worked at the University of Padova in 2003, we were those behind the control of one of the first commercial gyroscope that was used in the Apple smartphones! In Italy, we were also the only group outside Japan and US to work on data storage, in collaboration with big companies. That opened me to huge communities and gave me the opportunity to visit research centers in California (San Diego and Berkeley), Singapore and Japan.
It has been a rewarding experience to collaborate with Industry, and I learned a lot. Bridges between the two worlds academia/industry give mutual benefits.
I prefer to consider myself as a complicated problem solver. Curious, I moved from data storage to mems, telerobotics, to electric drive… My first work was on the sensorless brushless motors, one of my works in this area in 1999 is still one of the most cited papers in the field. What I really like is to understand the physics behind a process and to govern it. I need the two aspects: control not only the theoretical model but also the practical. I am half way between an Engineer and a professor.
Which advice(s) would you give to boost our reader’s career?
Being a volunteer in IES, for example as reviewer or in a conference committee, or join a Technical Committee, is the first step to enter a large community of talented researchers who can help you in boosting your career.
In academia like in industry, network is vital to improve our skills, and knowledge. An engineer or a professor cannot solve a problem by himself. Especially in Industrial Electronics, where problems are multidisciplinary, you will need high competence in different directions.
This advice also applies outside IES:
Don’t stay in your laboratory, get related to international people. Because it opens your mind, shows you different ways to approach problems.
Bring back ideas and lessons – not only technical, but also cultural and moral – that different people are teaching you.
Being open is the key word.
I guess sometimes you manage to stop working, so what are the hobbies or passion you want to tell us about?
Cooking relaxes me a lot. I like to cook Japanese (oyakodon, yaki udon, sushi, cold soba…) and my 3 children (2 girl twins and a boy) love it!
I am also fond of hiking, biking, and I still dare to play with volleyball… even if I am not that young anymore, but only with very old people, we carefully move around the field!
I enjoy Jazz music, but as I am the only one who does in the family, I have to listen to it in a headset… a Japanese one!
I love travelling, and thanks to my long service in IES I had the chance to visit several places in the world. In one of my trips, I could drive the car of my dreams: a Ford Mustang GT… 450 HP of pure enjoyment!
We would like to thank Prof. Oboe for his time, his wise advices, and great sense of humor!
Soon we will interview other IES officers, stay tuned…